Contrary to public perception, the number of children in immigrant families is not the primary reason more children are living in poverty, a Rutgers study has found, raising the question of whether federal policies affecting immigrants should be significantly altered.
Other determinants, including local labor market conditions, parental education and family structure appear to have a greater impact on child poverty levels, according to Myungkook Joo, assistant professor in Rutgers School of Social Work, who authored the study. Joo’s research challenges the view that, by their sheer numbers, children of immigrant families are a major obstacle to a strong U.S. economy. Children in immigrant families are projected to comprise nearly one-third of more than 100 million children in the U.S. by 2050.
The study, “How Much Does Change in the Proportion of Children Living in Immigrant Families Contribute to Change in the Poverty Rate Among Children?” published in September’s Social Service Review, and yields many important findings, among them that the overall effect that children in immigrant families have on the national poverty level was minor and runs counter to what some scholars have argued.
“Children in noncitizen families and in families that have lived here at least 10 years make slightly larger contributions to child poverty than families with naturalized citizen parents and those who arrived here more recently,” Joo said.
The immigrant population nearly doubled in size to 38.1 million from 1990 to 2007 and comprised almost 13 percent of the total U.S. population. In 2007, 59 percent of parents of immigrant children hailed from Mexico and other Latin American countries. During the same period, the number of children in immigrant families also nearly doubled to 16.4 million, representing 82 percent of the total increase in the children’s population.
Children in immigrant families have a higher risk of living in poverty than children in native families. According to the U.S. Census data, the child poverty rate peaked in 1994 at 22 percent among the general population. The rate was more than 43 percent for foreign-born children.